Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced €2.5 million in government funding today for a Trinity-led project digitally recreating 700 years of historical records of the Public Record Office of Ireland, which were destroyed by fire at the Four Courts at the beginning of the Irish Civil War.
The Beyond 2022: Ireland’s Virtual Record Treasury research project seeks to create a fully immersive model of the records lost on 22 June 1922, which will be launched and open to visitors at the event’s centenary.
Varadkar said in a statement: “This all-island and international collaborative initiative offers a permanent, meaningful and imaginative legacy beyond the conclusion of the Decade of Centenaries. It restores a significant missing chapter in our history, which was believed to be irretrievably lost, with the recreation of seven centuries of historical, genealogical and administrative records to enable a new understanding of Ireland’s shared past.”
“Beyond 2022 will enable the scholars of tomorrow to rewrite the story of the peoples of our islands,” he added.
The first phase of the research project identified over 200 volumes of transcripts suitable for enhanced digitisation and was led by historian Dr Peter Crooks and computer scientist, the late Dr Séamus Lawless of ADAPT.
The second phase will see the launch of the virtual reality model which, according to a press statement, “will be used as an interactive tool for engagement and research, whereby visitors will be able to browse the virtual shelves and link to substitute or salvaged records held by archives and libraries around the world”.
Director of Beyond 2022 Dr Peter Crooks said in a press statement: “The Four Courts blaze of 1922 was a national tragedy, but thankfully all is not lost. Beyond 2022 combines virtual reality and big data to recover from the losses of 1922 to a greater extent than ever previously imagined. The scale of copies and duplicates we have identified in other archives is astounding. We are already working with over 35 libraries and archives in Ireland, the UK and USA. And this is only the beginning.”
Professor Vinny Wade, Director of ADAPT Centre and Professor of Computer Science at Trinity, commented: “The immersive artificial intelligence and virtual reality technology used in the project provides an opportunity to blend the physical with the digital and offers all users an opportunity to virtually search an archive that most thought was lost forever in the fire.”
This is the first time that the project’s five core archival partners – the National Archives of Ireland, The National Archives UK, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, the Irish Manuscripts Commission and the Library of Trinity College Dublin – have formally collaborated on a shared project.
Provost Patrick Prendergast, said: “It will provide a lasting and meaningful legacy democratising access to invaluable records and archives across Ireland and the world.”